'VSS Imagine': Virgin Galactic launches its first next-generation spaceship

The SpaceShip III is finished in a mirror-like material that will reflect its surroundings

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Virgin Galactic has unveiled VSS Imagine, the first "SpaceShip III" in its growing fleet.

The craft is finished in a mirror-like material that will provide thermal protection and reflect its surroundings, meaning its colour will shift constantly as the ship makes its journey from Earth to sky and then on to space.

Utilising a modular design, the SpaceShip III class of vehicles are built to enable improved performance in terms of maintenance access and flight rate, says Virgin Galactic. Its introduction is an important milestone in the company’s targets of flying 400 flights per year, per spaceport.

“Virgin Galactic spaceships are built specifically to deliver a new, transforming perspective to the thousands of people who will soon be able to experience the wonder of space for themselves," said Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group.

"As a SpaceShip III class of vehicle, Imagine is not just beautiful to look at, but represents Virgin Galactic's growing fleet of spaceships. All great achievements, creations and changes start with an idea. Our hope is for all those who travel to space to return with fresh perspectives and new ideas that will bring positive change to our planet.''

VSS Imagine will commence ground testing this year, with glide flights planned for the summer from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

At the same time, manufacturing of VSS Inspire, the second SpaceShip III vehicle within the Virgin Galactic fleet, will continue.

Michael Colglazier, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said: "VSS Imagine and Inspire are stunning ships that will take our future astronauts on an incredible voyage to space, and their names reflect the aspirational nature of human spaceflight."